The Different Imaging Tests For Spine Pain

Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi

Spinal Imaging Tests

Medical innovation has provided doctors with numerous tools to help in the diagnosis process. A physical exam is great for formulating ideas as to why someone is suffering from back pain, but that theory is usually confirmed with the assistance of an imaging technique. Today, we take a look at five different imaging techniques spine surgeons use to confirm a diagnosis, and we explain what situations might call for each specific tool.



An x-ray is the most basic imaging tool that doctors have at their disposal. An x-ray is a great imaging tool because it provides the doctor with an image of the vertebrae in the neck and back. It can also help a doctor spot signs of degenerative changes, like in the case of arthritis, spinal instability, or vertebral fractures.


MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging, and it helps the doctor visualize soft tissues and other spinal structures that don’t show up on an X-ray. Using radio waves and magnets, an MRI relays pictures of the central nervous system, organs and soft tissues to a computer. This can help identify degenerative conditions like spinal disc loss, pinched nerves in the spinal column, and any spinal tumors or fluids that may be present in the spine.

CT Scan

A CT scan is more similar to an X-ray than an MRI, but it takes the technology a step further by providing a much more detailed picture of bones than an X-ray can. This allows doctors to look at very thin sections of bone to help visualize fractures and aid in the surgery planning process. After a surgery is complete, a CT scan may be used to visualize spinal hardware to ensure it has stabilized correctly.

CT Myelogram

A CT myelogram is the same thing as a CT scan, but in this instance a dye is injected into an area in the spine to provide contrast and a better image of the site. A CT myelogram may be used in patients who have a pacemaker or other implant who cannot safely undergo an MRI. The dye also provides for a better visualization of nerves, so it’s often used to help spot compressed or damaged spinal nerves.


A discogram, as the name implies, helps provide doctors with a better image of the spinal discs. It combines a couple different techniques mentioned above. A discogram is a more invasive x-ray that involves the injection of a dye into an injured disc or a series of discs to locate which discs are damaged and causing back pain. The dye makes the discs visible on a fluoroscope monitor or x-ray.

For more information on which technique may be best for your situation, consult with a spine surgeon today.

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